MATA employees and riders unite for better conditions

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- MATA employees and bus riders have come together, fed up with buses that are often overcrowded and late.

MATA has endured millions in cuts, and both groups said it's time for the bleeding to stop.

They've sent an open letter to Memphis mayor-elect Jim Strickland asking for better bus routes and funding. Riders and employees said the conditions they deal with are just unsafe.

MATA said every day between 34,000 and 38,000 people use their services and they know things aren't up to par.

"It's one of the biggest problems here in Memphis," Cynthia Bailey said.

Bailey, speaking for the thousands who ride the bus daily, wants action.

Bailey's group of bus riders has joined forces with the Local 713 Transit Union. She said poor conditions on buses, like overcrowding, affect drivers too.

"I mean if it's crowded, it makes the driver also feel kind of intimidated that it's overcrowded, and it's distracting from driving," Bailey said.

Ron Garrison, MATA's president and general manager, said he's looking at the letter and the new administration at City Hall as an "opportunity."

"Every great city has a great transit system, and that's something we don't have but I know we can have," Garrison explained.

Garrison, who has been in Memphis for a year, knows the budget has been tight.

"What's happened here is they have taken from Peter to pay Paul, and so we're at a point now where we are really constricted."

Pinched to a point, Garrison is now talking to outside agencies to try to figure out how to bring more funds to support the 36 bus routes that snake through Shelby County.

Those are routes that people depend on.

"They're real issues that affect thousands of Memphians. It affects our workforce, it affects bringing in businesses because businesses want a workforce that can show up to work on time," Strickland said.

Strickland was critical of how the city has previously handled MATA.  He said right now he has no specific plans for how to fix the problems but said one long-term solution would be to give businesses that build along existing bus routes points in their Pilot programs.

"To encourage inner-city development and to encourage them to get on those existing bus lines," said Strickland.

Garrison believes there's hope down the road.

"I think that we may have another tough year. I really think so, but I think we may see some changes in the next budget cycle."

Garrison said they're looking to bring on another position that can go out to recruit more funds.

Strickland said he plans to meet with the bus advocates at some point, but no specific date has been set.